Original review, shortly after finishing: this was one of the most satisfying, emotional books i've read in a long time.
I've been lucky in the last year or two, since I started reading new authors and genres, to absorb some amazing books, but none of them have touched me in the way that Blue Sky Days has. From the prologue, I was captivated, and as Marie Landry's debut novel spun a web of self-discovery, longing, and growth around me, I fell deeply in love with the setting, the plot, and the characters, especially the heroine, Emma Ward. Having graduated high school, but lacking the funds to venture on to college like the rest of her peers, Emma is stuck, watching her life pass her by. She's spinning her wheels. Emma was a character I identified with immediately. Her home life was nothing like mine, but the desire to do more, to BE more, to change who she was, I've been there. In so many ways, I connected with Emma, and I went on her journey with her.
Emma was a loner, concentrating on her studies in high school, and although I had a few close, good friends, so was I. I didn't go to a lot of parties, and I didn't date during high school. I was too content to just be, to watch everyone else live instead of going out and living, myself. It wasn't until I graduated that I started taking risks, branching out, and trying to get more involved in my own life, and so to see Emma struggling, at odds with who she was, was so poignant. I felt like Marie had peered back in time and revealed a glimpse of me, and probably, of many other young girls, confused, lost, not quite sure of who they were. Watching Emma, with the help of her aunt, Daisy, Nicholas, and a few amazing friends learn to discover who she was, who she could be, brought tears to my eyes. Her evolution as a character felt real and genuine, never forced or preachy. And the family and friends who helped her along the way were wonderfully fleshed-out, from debonair and earnest Nicholas, pretty and loving Maggie, vivacious, encouraging Daisy, and supportive Vince. They were such amazing foils to Emma's own mother, and I wanted to wrap my arms around them all. Watching Emma change struck a nerve in me, reminding me of the years I spent finding out who - I - was.
Also heart-warming was watching Emma fall in love with Nicholas. Blue Sky Days is only 207 pages, but Marie Landry made every word, every scene and chapter, count. I never felt like it was the dreaded insta-love with Emma and Nicholas. Although they do move somewhat quickly, it also made sense. Marie Landry perfectly captured the high of first love, those moments when the other person can make you smile, even when they are just a brush across your thoughts. I was right there with Emma, falling in love for the first time, realizing it IS possible to care SO much about another person, realizing that someone can look at you, of all people, and see someone special. For all the authors who write about love and romance, Marie got it absolutely right, pinpointing with subtle grace what, exactly, first love and in this case, real love, is. Nicholas and Emma were heart-warming and their interaction brought me to tears more than once, seeing how much they cared for one another, through good times and through bad - that when it really mattered, when they were both terrified, they were still right there for each other.
I also really admired the way Marie developed the relationships between Emma and the others in her life. Her aunt, Daisy, was so full of life, that it was infectious in a good way, and it was easy to see how much she and Emma loved one another. Daisy was such a good influence on Emma throughout Blue Sky Days, becoming Emma's rock, in some ways. Maggie and Vince were amazing friends for Emma, who learned through them what friendship was about. And Nicholas, who taught her so much about life - how to live it and how to love it - was so much more than a boyfriend. But what I applaud the most is that Emma, although she learns from all of the secondary characters, and leans on all of them in hard times, never becomes TOO dependent on anyone other than herself. She learns strength and she learns how to believe in herself, and even when faced with hard times, she never crumbles. I was so proud of her!
Blue Sky Days moves along nicely - pausing here and there to allow the reader time to fall deeper in love with the story being told - then picks up the pace, bringing me, literally, to the edge of my seat. At one point, I was shaking, because I knew what was coming, then because I had to know what was next. I shed tears of happiness, and tears of fear for the characters. For a short novel, Blue Sky Days was brimming with emotion, and it never felt fake. I've rarely come across a novel that clicked with me so powerfully; in some ways, I felt almost overwhelmed from how much I cared about the characters, especially Emma and Nicholas, by the end, but it was in a good way. Marie Landry made me FEEL something for her characters, and when I read the last page, I felt like I was saying not goodbye, but "see you when I see you" to friends. It's a rare gift, to be able to accomplish that over the course of a novel, but Marie did it. I won't forget Emma, Nicholas, or Blue Sky Days anytime soon.